"LGF is gone. Charles Johnson is gone. Face it. He was never ours. How about we let him take his delusions and slanders and paranoias and obsessions and falsehoods with him?"
-- Baldilocks (Juliette Ochieng)
Juliette certainly is not alone in seeing recent blogospheric rumblings as a belated denouement of the LGF meltdown.
The 2001-2005 period, when the Global War On Terror (GWOT) coincided with the rise of the political blogosphere, was also the apogee of what might be called the Karl Rove Center-Right Strategy.
Seeking to maintain maximum support for President Bush and the Republican Party, the Rove strategy involved "triangulation" to neuter Democratic Party arguments on domestic issues. No Child Left Behind, Medicare rescription drug benefits, the 2006-07 push to grant amnesty or guest-worker status to illegal aliens -- these were typical policy initiatives of the Rove strategy.
Especially after the 9/11 attacks, this "center-right" approach was mirrored in the rhetoric of much of the conservative blogosphere. Many GOP-aligned bloggers were understandably eager to elicit the support of liberals, or members of traditional Democratic constituencies, for the administration's foreign policy:
"Oh, look, this person is gay (or black, or feminist, or Joe Lieberman) and yet is strongly in favor of winning the Iraq war."
Which was all fine and good, in terms of the immediate goal of rallying support for the GOP and the Bush administration. Yet by focusing narrowly on a short-term foreign-policy consensus, the Rove center-right approach sowed the seeds of its own destruction.
The Great Unraveling
Once the war became unpopular, and once Democrats were able to shift the political focus to GOP vulnerabilities -- the Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff scandals in 2006, the economy in 2008 -- the Republican electoral coalition that had triumphed in the 2002 and 2004 elections unraveled with astonishing suddenness.
By attempting to unite disparate constituencies without any general agreement on political principles -- except that the U.S. response to terrorism should be forceful and comprehensive -- the Republican Party under Rove's direction had in some sense replicated LBJ's Vietnam-era debacle.
The Democratic hawks who were so key to the Cold War consensus in the U.S. had believed that popular support for fighting communism abroad could be purchased by enactment of liberal domestic policies. And in LBJ's 1964 landslide win over Barry Goldwater, these Democrats believed they had seen the vindication of that strategy.
Yet by 1968, the bloody prolongation of the Vietnam war and the upsurge of domestic chaos -- urban riots and campus protests -- splintered that victorious 1964 coalition so badly that, at one point, polls indicated that Hubert Humphrey might finish third behind Richard Nixon and George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election. (An anti-Wallace campaign led by the AFL-CIO helped prevent that scenario.)
From Values Voters to Obama Nation
For similar reasons, the Republican electoral coalition that seemed so formidable in the wake of the 2004 election -- remember the liberal panic over the "moral values" exit-poll question? -- has proven less durable than advocates of the Rove Center-Right Strategy hoped. Like the Democrats of 1964, the Rove-era Republicans assembled a coalition fraught with unreconciled conflicts.
We should not be surprised that what has transpired in electoral politics has been mirrored in the political blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan was one of the first to leap off the Bush bandwagon, screaming "homophobia" as he went. More recently we've seen Charles Johnson take his leave from the post-Bush Right, screaming "ultranational neofascist theocratic extremism" as he goes.
It is easy to shrug and to dismiss these developments with two words: "Batshit crazy."
However, the batshit craziness is not without cause, and that cause is the failure of Republican leaders -- and prominent conservative communicators -- to articulate consistently the Reaganesque message of freedom.
Last summer, when arguments over the Wall Street bailout were coming to full boil, I used "Libertarian Populism" as the title of an American Spectator column. Nobody's offered me a book contract to elaborate on that "Libertarian Populism" concept, but that idea is exactly what you've seen at work in the past year in the Tea Party movement.
Those Tea Party crowds are responding to a pro-freedom message expressed in populist language, viewing Big Government and Big Business (think: Tim Geithner, AIG, the GM takeover) as corrupt partners in an insider-elite agreement to defraud taxpayers and disempower citizens.
Another 'Time for Choosing'
It was hardly a coincidence that Charles Johnson reacted so harshly to the Tea Party phenomenon. Johnson and his LGF cult have never been libertarian and were "populist" only insofar as that term meant mocking John Kerry and Muslims.
When the political alignment of 2001-04 -- forged by what I've called the Rove Center-Right Strategy -- collapsed in 2006-08, it was inevitable that some supporters of the former Republican coalition would not be part of whatever new coalition emerged to take its place.
Just as the rise of the Reagan coalition resulted in the obsolescence of the liberal Republicans who had been an important part of the Eisenhower coalition, the emerging Tea Party coalition will render obsolete many of those who were part of the G.W. Bush coalition.
As Reagan famously said in 1964, we are at a crossroads, a "Time for Choosing" and I trust that it is with sadness Juliette bids farewell to former friends.